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Mitchell reworks schedule amid ESD, Class AA changes

Starting next school year, Mitchell's basketball and volleyball schedules will look different yet familiar.

With the 18 teams in Class AA moving to a statewide scheduling approach after approving a new playoff format, Mitchell's Eastern South Dakota Conference games in boys basketball, girls basketball and volleyball will be cut in half, from 16 down to eight.

But the Kernels have a plan for how they'd like to approach their schedules going forward, playing the bulk of the state's Class AA teams while retaining meetings with long-held area rivals.

"I think we got as good of a schedule as we could have asked for," Mitchell Activities Director Cory Aadland said. "Part of the concern with going down to eight ESD games from 16 is that (previously), finding four (non-conference) games was pretty easy. Now, you have to find 12 games. But given the relationships we've always had, that insulated us from a lot of the issues we could have had."

With high school basketball and volleyball teams allowed to schedule 20 games or head-to-head matchups, Mitchell's scheduling philosophy is centered around the following games: eight contests in the Eastern South Dakota Conference, followed by four games with the high schools in Sioux Falls (Lincoln, O'Gorman, Roosevelt and Washington) and then four games played West River against the five Class AA schools in that area (Douglas, Rapid City Central and Stevens, Spearfish and Sturgis).

Mitchell will protect its rivalry games with District 3AA rivals Huron and Pierre, playing both teams home and away in boys and girls basketball and volleyball. Aadland said the school tried to retain the same format with Aberdeen Central but the Golden Eagles weren't able to make room for Mitchell for all sports. Mitchell will play Aberdeen twice in volleyball next season, though. The other ESD opponent that will be played twice in both volleyball and girls basketball is Harrisburg.

The Kernels will fill out the rest of their schedule with their traditional tournaments and classics. Mitchell boys basketball will play twice at the Mike Miller Classic in 2018, while the Mitchell girls basketball team will play in the event for the first time next season. The Kernels' volleyball team will play four matches at the Huron Invitational early next season to fill out the rest of their slate.

"It's going to be a big change," Aadland said. "Going away from the (ESD) double round-robin is tough but I think, as athletic directors, we know that statewide scheduling is important. We've had relationships with Rapid City Central and Stevens forever, that helps with the West River aspect."

Spearfish and Sturgis will be more common foes for Mitchell moving forward, while Douglas didn't have many openings due to its ties to the Black Hills Conference, Aadland said, meaning each team will likely have one West River trip each year. The main casualty of the schedule changes is the Kernels' games with the remaining ESD foes, most notably Yankton, along with Brookings, Brandon Valley and Watertown. Mitchell will play those four teams just once.

"Scheduling is always hard and it's easy to look at one schedule and say, 'This is what to do,' " Aadland said. "The downside is that you don't have as much flexibility if you might have had in the past because there's just more schools involved."

The goal of the changes is to help prepare teams for the postseason, by having teams play as many Class AA opponents as possible. If that happens, the hope is that the seed points will be more equitable at season's end.